Eggshells by Caitriona Lally is a darkly hilarious and moving novel about feeling that you don’t fit in. Vivian lives alone in her dead great-aunt’s house and spends every day (like a 21st century Leopold Bloom) walking the streets of Dublin. Other people and all their words and conversations make no sense to her and she can’t understand how to live in the ordinary world. Vivian believes she’s a changeling, and is looking for a portal to take her back to where she thinks she belongs.
In the vein of the best-selling Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, this novel is a depiction of acute loneliness. Vivian’s parents are dead, her sister can’t stand her and she has no idea how to make friends, so writes a notice and pins it to a tree:
WANTED: Friend called Penelope. Must Enjoy Talking Because I Don’t Have Much to Say. Good Sense of Humour Not Required Because My Laugh Is a Work in Progress. Must Answer to Penelope: Pennies Need Not Apply. Phone Vivian
For me it took time to get used to Vivian’s strange world but once I did there were many moments of laugh out loud humour. Her neighbours comment on her behaviour:
“Ah, Vivian, would you look at yourself, a grown woman up a tree on a day like today.”
When reminded by David, her social worker to keep an open mind she says:
“I am open-minded … sometimes I wear my slippers on the opposite feet to change my worldview, even though it makes me hobble.”
At heart this is a book about language and how we use and misuse it. As she journeys around Dublin, Vivian collects lists of words making patterns and connections and trying to find hidden meanings. She’s not ‘neurotypical’ and is therefore unlikely to change her (to us) eccentric ways of thinking, so don’t expect character development, but if you love a novel that plays with language you’ll enjoy reading Eggshells. As an unreliable narrator her skewed understanding of the world makes for some very funny one liners and achingly funny set pieces.
She may be a tragic and lonely figure but Vivian is a feisty, determined character getting on with her life against the odds; by the end there are glimmers of hope that something may change for the better, even if she never finds her portal. Eggshells reflects our own image back as we observe Vivian’s struggles and is a bid for acceptance and understanding of human differences.
Newly published by the Borough Press, Eggshells was first published in 2015 and has recently won The Rooney Prize for emerging Irish writers. As chair of the selection committee, literary agent, Jonathan Williams said: “Caitriona Lally’s only novel, Eggshells, is a work of impressive imaginative reach, witty, subtle and occasionally endearingly unpredictable.